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County prepares ordinances for future growth
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As residential growth has come to a standstill, the Newton County Board of Commissioners decided it was time to examine and possibly strengthen several housing and development related ordinances.

At this past weekend’s county retreat, Chairman Kathy Morgan proposed creating an ordinance to force developers to build amenities before they are able to sell homes.

Morgan said several neighborhood homeowners associations have been left without promised amenities, such as swimming pools and recreational facilities, because developers and builders went bankrupt before many developments were finished.

Fairview Estates is a perfect example because the fourth phase of houses in that neighborhood was never built; the land remains vacant. Attorney Jenny Carter said the current ordinance states that amenities don’t have to be installed until after 75 percent of the houses in a development have been sold. While this wasn’t a problem previously, Carter said the rash of foreclosures and bankruptcies has left several neighborhoods in partial stages of completion. Therefore, the county can’t force the developer to build the amenities.

Morgan said this situation is one of her biggest pet peeves, because she receives about a call a week from a resident complaining about HOA fees and a lack of amenities.

“I really take issue with builders and developers selling a subdivision and saying it’s going to have amenities, but they don’t tell the owners that they will be collecting HOA fees,” she said. “Some people have lived six to eight years in neighborhoods without getting amenities.”

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said the ordinance was a problem even before the economic downturn, and he said it needs to be strengthened. County Attorney Tommy Craig said the simplest correction is to require developers to build amenities on the front end, not after they’ve sold all their houses.

Morgan said she would also like the ordinance to clarify the rules for forming HOAs. She said it’s difficult to tell where HOAs exist and who is in charge of them. She would like a new ordinance to require these to be filed with the county; a future work session may be held on the creation of an HOA ordinance.

Vinyl Siding

Morgan also wanted the BOC to look at building ordinances dealing with vinyl siding. She said many newer homes in the western part of the county were built with cheap, vinyl siding. She’s often told the story of the home that had a wall bowed out because the family accidentally pushed their couch too hard when moving it against the wall.

Ewing said the county tried to address vinyl siding before, but he said he didn’t believe vinyl siding could be eliminated together. However, he said restriction requiring three sides of a building to be brick, and allowing one side to be vinyl siding, did exist in Newton County.

Maintenance Bonds

The BOC also discussed strengthening the language of ordinance s regulating maintenance and performance bonds for subdivisions. When developers start to construct a housing development, counties often require them issues a performance or maintenance bond to the county.

The bond is meant to cover the cost of public infrastructure required for the subdivision, like roads and water and sewer pipes, which are supposed to be constructed by the developer. If the developer doesn’t complete the infrastructure or if he does substandard work that doesn’t last at least a year, the bond money is used to complete or repair the work. Normally, after a year, that infrastructure becomes public property and the county is then responsible for maintenance; roads are the most obvious example of this.

However, Morgan and Carter said the county had troubling enforcing their maintenance bond ordinance previously.


Noise and Event Ordinances

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she also wants the county to look at its event ordinance. She said groups have held events in the western part of the county and have served alcohol, but the county can’t stop those events under its current event ordinance.

Morgan said she also wanted the county to strengthen its noise ordinance. She said the noise ordinance in Walton County is very strong and could be a guide for Newton as it prepares for increased density. She said a noise ordinance could be an important tool to address situations like the drag strip being discussed in Social Circle.